The idea of the ‘Splinternet’, being discussed in many quarters, is interesting. Networks of global online collaboration, personally and professionally, are easily overshadowed by larger divergent and conflicting political, national and legal interests (China, The EU, America).
Here’s a refreshing jolt of Scottish insight and depressive realism for you (don’t know if I know enough to know about how much I think is true). A lot of the problems in the tail need to be analyzed.
Dear Reader, if you’re thinking belief doesn’t matter, please check out what can happen to people when they come in and out of hope, attached to deeper system of belief, even if that system is generally an ideology with debatable epistemological roots.
Of course there are always violent knuckleheads at such events, but it’s remarkable how many people find themselves sharing common intellectual ground:
What you personally think is true, and what you know, can profoundly affect your experiences and the decisions you make. This bleeds into the thousands of daily judgments your make, moral and otherwise.
Rod Dreher (formerly Catholic, currently Orthodox, religiously conservative but often writing for a liberal mainstream) brings up a former piece of his on Ta Nehisi Coates’ popularized racial identity separatism: ‘Amy Cooper, Race, And Mercy’
‘He [Coates] set himself up to be disillusioned because he expected of liberalism something it couldn’t deliver. (“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” — Flannery O’Connor). He really seems to have thought that we were moving inexorably to the elimination of that particular evil in this world.’ And we are!
To some extent, a Marxist or post-Marxist framework has won many minds, including those viewing the world primarily through the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism, liberation theology, a politics prioritizing collective identity, constant radical overthrow of anything established).
Change becomes an immediate necessity, and any injustice, or perceived injustice, becomes an actionable reality. Any established tradition, practice, or responsibility someone else has decided to carry becomes oppressive.
Unfortunately, such a view, mainstream in many quaraters, never really condemns violence in pursuit of its aims.
Why did law enforcement allow these cells to proliferate across the US? Professional agitators exploit local communities and use justified anger to further divide all of us – when they say: “All good cops are dead cops” they mean black and Hispanic cops too – ask them. I did. https://t.co/IC6iw3kEtu
If identity politics is a watered-down form of Marxism [quite a bit of truth in this] then some Leftists are advocating a return to more pure Marxism, in the face of institutional weakness and capture (‘woke’ elites, competitive globalism and flabby, high liberal institutionalism, ‘neo-liberals’ etc.). A lot of the industrial utopianism Marx advocated (dependent upon and reactive to Hegelian (H)istoricism and a ridiculously reductive materialism), is easily transferable to computing technology and (S)cience.
In America, personally, I believe a more religious, more traditional civil fabric is being eroded in favor of…something else (freedom of speech and religious liberty perhaps no longer enjoying a popular majority).
As for my thinking, the Platonic model found in the Republic (one of many models I’m using), keeps me up at night: Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
As to politics and social institutions, sent in by a reader, here’s a talk given by John McWhorter about his views in ‘Losing The Race‘, a man who strikes me as politically amorphous, unsatisfyingly moderate for some, and often very sensible. As has been the case for a while, there [are] a whole range of views out there
‘Is it necessary for us to have a conservative voice or something like that? We’ve discussed it, but I’m not sure exactly what it would look like. I think The New Yorker’s niche is pretty comfortably in this progressive space and it’s much less of an issue to us than it is to The New York Times.’
I actually might agree on two fronts: The New Yorker definitely caters to progressive political ideals (a long-term winning market strategy?) AND that there’s something loathsome about hiring just to fill quotas. The idea of letting other people live their own lives and make their own decisions is socrazy it just might work.
The latter is lost on many true-believing progressives, as the presupposed rigged ‘system’ of the oppressor justifies all manner of intrusion into existing institutions through protest, radical unrest and forced quota-systems.
Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
In the meantime, check out this tweet from Peace Pavilion West (my fictional community of back-to-nature collectivists exploring the Self).
What started out as Peace, Love and Inclusion at the Human Pagoda, a community transcending all human limitations, a buzzing colony building eco-pods to the very Heavens, devolved into ever stronger chaos and ever stronger central authority.
After our liberation, the promise of equality always seemed shimmering on the horizon.
It takes a big man to tweet at The New Yorker:
At Peace Pavilion West, we have banished all free enterprise, becoming a ‘closed community.’ Collective love and our Supreme Leader’s revolutionary teachings shall guide us. Namaste, Eustace.
As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.
Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.
Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.
I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).
I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority. Process can often matter as much as outcome.
Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.
The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:
That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.
This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.
I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.
***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).
I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).
Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.
Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest: ‘The Anti-Cold War:‘ (comments are worth a read).
The Cold War was very dangerous, no doubt about it. We were all lucky to have gotten through it without a global conflagration. The anti-Cold War may be more dangerous still. So how lucky are you feeling?
There are a lot of ideas in the article, some of which may not be founded in bedrock, but which are quite interesting nonetheless.
My two cents (founded in the clay soil found here in my backyard, as I engage in fever dream):
If I’m Putin, I came up in the KGB, and became proficient in the often ruthless and efficient tactics practiced by the KGB up until and after the Soviet collapse. Intel analysis, deflection, corruption-management and misdirection are second-nature. Diplomacy is usually just a game of submission, especially with the former satellites. There are some very hard men around me, and I’m a hard man, too.
My country is wounded, but still has its pride, and I play it up for political gain and to solidify my position and those most loyal to me, making myself very wealthy and powerful in the process.
I’ve got genuine problems: The Baltics joined NATO, and many in Ukraine are trying to do the same. Chechnya is a mess and terrorizing Moscow from time to time. History is still going, oil-prices are down, and birth-rates don’t look so good.
Two more cents (that makes four) on the progressive/Trump dynamic, and how this might influence foreign policy:
Progressive ideology in America has suddenly lost a lot of influence:
Such ideology is not antithetical to Communism, and usually collectivist, activist, and suspicious of free flows of capital and American business interests coming to the fore in American foreign policy, progressives easily unite against nationalist/conservative/neo-conservative interventionist claims to authority.
One major goal of progressives is to defeat the ‘oppressor,’ and his morally illegitimate claims to rule through use of the American military…sometimes in quite radical fashion.
The greatest leverage can often be had through international institutions, because they are typically the path of least resistance for the ideological/rationalistic goals of Progressivism: A better world is possible if people with shared progressive ideals can gain political power and influence enough to implement goals which claim liberation and radical liberation towards some knowable endpoint.
Progressives often claim the mantle of (S)cience, (P)eace, (R)eason and Enlightenment authority, but given the stuff of human nature, progressive political ideology tends to traffic in:
-Making sacred the ‘-isms’ (environmentalism, racism, sexism etc.and deploying them, when necessary, against all enemies).
-Cultivating shared moral sentiments and solidarity under shared political ideals, and unsurprisingly, often organizing hatred and re-sentiment against any who would oppose progressive goals…identifying such opponents as potentially ‘evil’).
With the election of Trump, a lot of people who share progressive goals have lost a lot of power/influence rather suddenly.
Trump as I see him:
A guy who’s probably harbored political ambitions for a while, and who has spent a majority of his life in the real estate/NYC real estate game. That world seems pretty tough, where knowing the right people, leveraging capital, risk, personal, political and business connections is key. I don’t know if I’d trust doing business with the man (not like I’d ever have the chance).
He’s clearly spent a lot of time on self-promotion and brand management, and seized on the profound populist resentment against D.C. more broadly in speech after speech, especially as it related to immigration. He ran openly against a lot of dominant ‘narratives’ found in the current media landscape (promising to absolve the cloud of racial guilt hanging over many heads), and was openly, refreshingly anti-PC.
A nationalistic, business-minded pragmatist capable of compromise and patience..drastically setting a new course for American interests?
A mildly authoritarian protectionist and absurd showman; a semi-celebrity who really won’t get over his desire for attention and who could really f**k things up?
What to hope for?
What to work towards?
Any thoughts and comments are welcome…as previously posted:
‘An odd moment in the announcement came when Putin mentioned his confirmed children, two adult daughters whom we’ve never really seen, though there were reports in 2010 that one of them was marrying the son of a South Korean admiral.’
A reader passed along a video of Bill Browder, who made a billion, lost much of it, and got a look at Russian politics, money, and power up close. The way he describes it: Corruption all the way to the top.
College isn’t really, nor should be, for everyone, which means a lot of complex things for our Republic. Practical solutions to current problems, addressed as non-politically as possible, are a great start.
‘I’m ethnically Republican. (I know you young people understand Identity Politics.) My grandmother was born in the 19th century near Springfield, Illinois, where the only Democrat anybody had ever heard of was John Wilkes Booth.’
I suspect some of the idealism, bloat and dysfunction of our current politics has its roots in the 60’s ‘me’ generation solipsism embraced, then later satirized, by O’Rourke. It’s tough to stay hip these days, as both parties have enormous populist vs. establishment rifts, but he’s giving it a go.
A former radical and democratic socialist fossil from the 60’s doing combat against a rather unprincipled career pol endlessly seeking political power on the Clinton brand name is ripe for satire as well, I should think.
This is our current polito-sphere, as of the winter solstice, December 21st, 2015, America. We’ve earned it:
Above are the people who want to lead us, America, and they’re probably not the best among us.
Addition: Do you want a Jeb instead of a Cruz? Is this a form of establishment defense old-timey nostalgia against Trump’s populist success upon which Cruz is drafting?
As previously posted:
The baby-boomers are still talking about themselves, and perhaps it’s still important.
A line by O’Rourke which stirs libertarian sympathies:
‘We’re creating a political system upon which everybody is dependent.’
Did the 60’s counter-culture and the conservative counter-counter culture both win, in a sense?
Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley and Peter Robinson discuss below, including the sexual revolution:
‘The Center for American Progress and its affiliated 501(c)(4) Center for American Progress Action Fund often attack conservative and libertarian organizations for as tools of corporate interests. The latter’s Think Progress blog, for instance, has often suggested corporate donations undermine the credibility of CAP’s ideological adversaries. This makes a recent report andfollow-up in The Nation on CAP’s own corporate support quite interesting. CAP claims to not be influenced by its receipt of corporate money. That may well be true, but it would be easier to credit such claims were CAP and its affiliates more willing to give others the same benefit of the doubt.’
But it’s the glass house of the People!
Many will think that David Horowitz, red-diaper baby and (Former Leftist cum anti-Leftist) crusader is a bridge too far, but making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.
Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, always portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:
There’s the narrower progressive/Leftist problem, and the broader changes going on in our society, like the steady growth of government and the cultural drift towards multiculturalism, for better or worse.
I’ll let Ira Stoll, formerly of Reason and currently of the Smarter Times and the Future Of Capitalism have the last word:
‘Indeed, if there is a single fact that sums up the state of American political economy at the present moment, it is this: the Boston office building once home to Inc. Magazine and Fast Company, which chronicled and celebrated small and fast-growing businesses, is now the headquarters of a publication called “Compliance Week.”’
Hopefully, this is what blogs are for, to get ideas out in the open where they can walk, or crawl their way along:
Interestingly, one of the few policy issues Washington and Moscow agree upon is terror. Moscow has been cracking down hard, and the Chechen uprising has been striking back. Many Russians are all too familiar with this bloody conflict.
Addition: Well, of course Putin’s going to exploit this for his own ends, but on balance, there’s very little else on which we find agreement with Russia. Musharraf played us too, and paid the price in Pakistan.
This blog would like to focus on two issues surrounding the bombing: The limits of secular humanism, multiculturalism, diversity and their political and ideological interests regarding the Marathon bombing, and a suggestion for how reasonable people could think about Muslim immigration to the U.S (a bit differently than other immigrants).
1. Clearly, from the facts being gathered, the elder Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, was increasingly embracing his Muslim faith, refraining from alcohol, converting his wife, and seeking to live an increasingly Muslim life. This increasingly isolated him from much of life in America. A good Muslim man expects his wife to act accordingly, and I’ve had experiences with two other Muslim men in the U.S. estranged from their wives, and charged with assault against them (both minor assaults, not beheadings).
Muslim societies place high emphasis on male honor and duty, both in the home and in the public square where the mosque dominates. Men meet with shame in the ‘community’ if a wife, children or other members of the family stray too far from the faith. There are a series of social norms and traditions stemming from the faith. It’s not up for debate if your wife wants to drive, get a job, or leave the house uncovered. It’s law in many countries. That law comes from God.
Men call most of the shots and enforce this law, and expect a certain amount of submission. Beyond this, it’s also not up to any of them whether or not they will have sex outside of marriage, drink, smoke or go to strip-clubs, especially amongst the hard-liners (of course, people still do, but can be punished severely, especially if the hard-liners make and enforce the law). This is law from God, also. It begins in submission. There is an Islamist resurgence going on in much of the Muslim world.
Living in Western societies makes it very difficult indeed to maintain the faith, customs, norms and traditions for many Muslim men, especially those traveling back and forth. Something often gives. They have to stay flexible.
I see Islam as a platform from which further radicalization can occur in a small percentage of Muslim men. In the Tsarnaev case, I speculate that his being Chechen, and the Chechen role in places like Syria and joining the Islamic resurgence played heavily into the Marathon bombing. It wasn’t just Islam, but it was Islam combined with his ethnic identity, his homeland and his cause.
Radical Islam was a further avenue to be explored in his case. Al Qaeda (everywhere and nowhere) is more like a franchise, and the siren call of those radical videos echoes in certain ears. There are thousands of others who hear this song and activate at some point, joining the front lines, ready to murder. They can be well-educated, intelligent, and quite familiar with the West. Al Qaeda provides them with practical training, videos, equipment and sends them off to their deaths.
Now, in a multiculturalist society aiming for secular human ideals, simply expecting Islam to fit neatly on the shelf next to Christianity and Judaism and other religions isn’t satisfactory, as this event highlights, especially in a globalized world.
You’d think we would learn from Great Britain’s example.
I see ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’ as bounded concepts, which function like ideologies in our public square, creating political and cultural identities and allegiances. In turn, adherents demand loyalty against common enemies beneath ideas presumed to be universal.
As someone who routinely stands up against collectivist principles which I believe have troubled relationships with the individual and with liberty, it’s become a common theme on this blog to highlight such folks (many on the Right have authoritarian impulses and can degenerate into wanting to control everyone else through mostly bad laws too, and like the Weather Underground and animal rights nuts can resort to terrorism and violence as well, but that’s for another discussion).
Islam itself is a religious and political project based on tribal and sometimes even nomadic life. Many Muslims identify most strongly with other Muslims, and there’s fellow-feeling in the Muslim world for the cause of other Muslims. We should keep in mind that Islam hasn’t undergone an Enlightenment nor a Reformation. There’s a lot of tribalism out there. There’s no central authority like Rome. Apostates aren’t tolerated. Some Muslims shift like the sands to new fronts, defending the faithful, taking up arms amongst outnumbered locals. Al Qaeda is sometimes the most organized, well-trained group among them. Some places like Somalia, Yemen, Mali, Afghanistan, the FATA region of Pakistan, harbor these terrorists who plan attacks on our soil. That’s why we are essentially at war, using our military, security and intelligence agencies and violent force, if necessary.
We’ve got to make deals with the most stable Muslim countries out there.
Sure, there are ‘moderate’ Muslims, with families, who want jobs, who have daily lives, who are generous and hospitable. Sure, they can be worth knowing and befriending. Sure their religion has deep wisdom and traditions worthy of respect. Sure, they have a long history, and legitimate grievances. Sure there are injustices and perceived injustices to rail against.
Eventually though, there is conflict between their faith and the modern world and the West. They resolve this conflict in many ways, and I believe the context of a multicultural society is obviously insufficient for these resolutions to occur without glossing over the violence. We want to still maximize and maintain our freedoms and defend ourselves first.
This connects to point number two:
2. I think the American right and the American Left get a lot wrong about this state of affairs. This is by no means a call for any sort of incitement against Muslims in America, as most of them are assimilating fairly well, which I credit to having a more open and dynamic economy and a Constitutional Republic which has no specific religious test for office, among other things. I also credit Muslims adopting the principles and ideals of America and the daily sacrifices we all make for each other, living alongside one another. There’s never a shortage of ignorance.
That said, only a fool would ignore the threat to our public square which a few Muslims are posing, and which a steady stream of radicalized and radicalizing Muslims will likely continue to pose. We are at war with a small, but active portion of the Muslim world who take their fight to our streets. This needs to be fought against as effectively as possible (a task at which we often fail, and will likely fail again). This threat can come from within our society, or at least from those quite familiar with it, living among us. It can come from far away.
I’m not sure what the best way forward is, but I’m pretty sure I know how some people will react, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be sufficient.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
Addition: An interesting post here utilizing Bayesian statistics. A very small percentage of Muslims radicalize. In the wake of a terror attack, and more generally, we want as many people as possible against terrorism, including Muslims, especially those living in America:
‘People, being more suspicious of Muslims in the many, many situations when they don’t need to be, are also more suspicious in the few situations where they actually do need to be. If only we could keep those appropriate suspicions, lose the inappropriate ones, and somehow figure out how to flag white supremacists as well, we’d be in business.’
Of course, there is a rational defense of a position which has political implications. Yet, the people most likely to know if a Muslim is radicalizing are other Muslims around him, after all.
The point I wanted not to lose in the multicultural fog is that there is a path for Muslims to radicalize, and their faith plays an important part. Some may call it a bastardized version of Islam, but even Islam itself has not created a separation of church and state, free speech, and a broad platform of individual liberties. It’s not called ‘radical Islam’ for nothing. The actual numbers, however, may not warrant blanket suspicion.
‘You will hear a lot of claims about militants killed and civilians killed and civilians spared. Most likely, neither side will be entitled to its shrillness. If the Al Majalah strike has any value now, it should be to remind us not just of our knowledge but also of our ignorance.’
Assad still has chemical weapons, but is losing ground, and it’s been a messy, protracted situation spilling over Syria’s borders. Patriot missiles are used for defense. Turkey also wants to keep a lid on the Kurds. Let’s hope the chemical weapons situation doesn’t occur.
‘U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the order while en route to Turkey to send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 U.S. troops to operate them. The surface-to-air interceptors will help in “dealing with threats that come out of Syria,” Panetta said after landing at Incirlik Air Base, a U.S. Air Force installation about 80 miles from Syria’s border
Panetta was unconcerned about possible reactions from Damascus to the Patriot deployment. “We can’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether that pisses off Syria,” he said, adamant that helping Turkey was the priority.’
I hope we’re not waiting on Russia to come around, though it seems one strategic goal for this administration is to align and subsume U.S. interests to the ultimate aim of international courts, laws, and institutions, no matter how flawed and ineffective they can be. This is probably not the best way to secure out interests, nor deal with strategic alignments down the road.
As a friend has pointed out: our transformation to become like many quarters in Europe is being pursued with zeal: the aim to centrally plan the U.S. economy and create a large welfare state, vastly expand the size and scope of government, have a few crony corporations that stifle competition, have our political leadership in bed with labor unions, the greens, the secular humanists and run by technocrats etc. Of course, most of the interests that run the country are fairly well entrenched and it’s unclear how much anyone can do, but new coordinates are being entered in daily under the current administration.
From the Bangkok Post:
‘Germany and the Netherlands have also agreed to provide advanced “hit-to-kill” Patriot weapons, which are designed to knock out cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.
The move coincides with rising fears the Syrian regime may resort to using chemical weapons against rebel forces and after Assad’s army unleashed Scud missiles in recent days’
Here’s hoping for the best, and preparing for the challenges that await.